A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A, as seen through the ruins of abandoned Launch Complex 34. (FOX photo)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A dramatic sunset launch sent 40 internet satellites into orbit while illuminating the skies over Florida on Thursday.
A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center just before 5:30 p.m., lighting up the twilight and leaving a brilliant white exhaust plume in its wake. Minutes later, the crack of a triple sonic boom shook the coast as the booster stage returned for a landing.
It was another seemingly routine mission for SpaceX, which has now launched over 3,000 small satellites into space as the company builds out its Starlink internet constellation.
But this time, the payload belonged to OneWeb, something of a Starlink competitor.
Both companies are building a satellite network in low Earth orbit with the goal of providing internet service from space to anyone around the globe. But while Starlink is focused on consumers, OneWeb says its focus will be on businesses.
OneWeb’s efforts had been slowed by financial issues as well as by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company had been using Russian Soyuz rockets to launch its satellites; the invasion and subsequent sanctions forced them to seek alternatives, including – for the first time – SpaceX.
Amazon, meanwhile, is planning its own network of internet-beaming satellites, known as Project Kuiper. Their first launch is scheduled for early next year aboard United Launch Alliance’s brand new Vulcan rocket, but later expects to transition to rockets build by Blue Origin, the company founded and run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The Falcon 9's first stage begins its landing burn. (FOX photo)
It’s been a busy year around Cape Canaveral, which has seen everything from the return of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to the long-awaited debut of NASA’s SLS moon rocket. But it’s not over yet; SpaceX has a few more launches on the docket before the end of the year, including the launch of ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1 – the first privately-led Japanese mission to land on the lunar surface.
That mission is scheduled to blast off early Sunday morning and will include a beachside landing like Thursday’s flight – the accompanying sonic boom promising a 2 a.m. wakeup call for Space Coast neighbors who do not plan to get up for the launch.